Where houseplants thrive, humans thrive: sun-drenched windows, not dark basements; soft natural light, not harsh fluorescent bulbs that eerily twitch and ceaselessly hum, illuminating countless, now empty, office buildings. What’s good for plants is usually good for people, so it’s not a shock that retreating from offices and working from the comfort of one’s home has become the preferred norm for the majority of U.S. employees.
According to research, six in ten people whose jobs can be done remotely have eliminated office life entirely, or for most of their workdays (Parker 2022). Over the last two years, as people have pivoted from offices furnished by employers to quiet nooks in the privacy of their homes, they are faced with a new task: creating a comfortable workspace that is distinct from the places they eat, rest and relax.
For some, they’ve accepted the work-life blur with meandering trails of memos and meeting notes from the kitchen table to the sofa cushions. But for those who need to set clear boundaries in their homes, houseplants are a vital component to establishing an inviting yet focus-driven home office. The presence of plants aids creative output (Chulvi 2020) and can spruce up your workspace while helping you achieve that coveted personal-professional equilibrium.
No two home offices are the same, but we narrowed down the most common WFH ‘habitats’ and the plants that will flourish in them.
Plants we love for a cozy office
By cozy, we mean snug. It’s that corner of your dining room or the multipurpose room in which your desk competes for space with the guest bed and work-out equipment. For a smaller home office, we suggest orienting your desk or table close to a window so that the outdoors are either directly facing you or in your periphery, to help open up your view. If this isn’t possible, you can hang up a mirror to reflect more space into the room.
For a cramped type of workspace, we recommend smaller plants that help conserve space thanks to their compact size while putting their cheerful personalities on full display.
Peperomia Hope is a hybrid semi-succulent that is often nicknamed "Trailing Jade" for its wandering stems adorned in perky bright green leaves with subtle stripes running down the center. This plant stores moisture in its fleshy stems and leaves, making it easy to care for. It does well in medium to bright light.
A petite snake plant, Fernwood Mikado is a miniature but equally hardy variety of Sansevierias. Like the Peperomia, it also stores water in its tall arching leaves that remain happy in varied light conditions. While we need all the hydration we can get, be careful not to overwater this leafy friend.
Plants for a minimalist office
This is the workspace of someone who can count on one hand all of their objects that spark joy. It’s uncluttered and focused on the task at hand. Everything has a place, from the alphabetized books down to the personalized letterhead and custom cable keepers. We recommend simple comforts that keep the area from feeling too sterile like a soft rug underfoot, fragrant candle or humidifier. Keep at least one framed photo of someone you love or a colorful illustration within sight at all times.
As a supporting role (and nearly blank canvas), this office needs a strong lead. We’re talking about plants that have main character energy.
Mounted on the wall or jutting out dramatically from a pot, the Staghorn Fern is a showstopper in the minimalist office thanks to its distinct anatomical shape. What it lacks in flowers and seeds, it makes up for in antler-shaped fronds that seem to be reaching outward in an embrace. This fern loves humidity, so keep the soil moist and shield it from direct light.
The indoor tree of your dreams, Ficus Audrey or fig tree is a stunning living sculpture. It’s no surprise that these trees have cultural significance as objects of worship. You’ll want a brightly lit room for this plant and some direct sun is fine. Be careful not to overwater and wipe the leaves with a soft cloth to keep them coiffed and shiny.
Cluttered office? We love these plants
This is a lair of day-old coffee cups, half-read books and stacks of file folders that precariously tower over your desk like an abandoned game of Jenga. We recommend a paper shredder and organizing boxes to keep the chaos contained. Keep at least one surface reserved for your laptop and current reading material.
There’s a method to the mess, and you need plants that won’t compete with your space. We chose two vertically inclined plants that can settle into place and balance your sea of work with their quirky botanical charm.
The full size Sansevieria or snake plant has strong rigid leaves that grow upward, freeing much-needed horizontal surface area. This succulent is drought tolerant and does remarkably well in low-light and direct sunlight. It’s one of the few plants that releases oxygen at night, so it’s ideal if you burn the midnight oil.
The zebra striped cactus Haworthia is a close relative of the Aloe plant and is an easy to care for succulent. Like the snake plant, its spiky leaves jut up and outward with a lot of attitude but minimal plant-spreading. Your striped boy doesn’t need much to thrive, just a lot of light—ideally direct sun—and very little water.
The best shared office plants
In this communal space, you're either bumping elbows with your partner, or your kids and pets are running underfoot. This workspace is not your own but a constant compromise of sound and square footage. We suggest a pair of high quality headphones and an adjustable standing desk so you can keep your attention engaged amidst distraction.
Here, houseplants can help designate your space from other activities, while ensuring that they are non-toxic to everyone around you (furry or otherwise). We chose two of our favorite pet-friendly plants that are calming and help you set boundaries. Their leaves reach upward, like a fence of raised arms, to create a soft green enclosure between you and the rest of your home.
One of the most beautiful tropical foliage plants, Calathea’s large waxy leaves evolved to catch the dripping water from the rainforest canopy overhead. Give this green goddess bright indirect light, but no direct sun and minimal water.
A member of the pepper family, Peperomias is a semi-succulent that stores water in its leaves and can tolerate low-light conditions, although they prefer bright indirect light. Like the Calathea, this plant is also easy to overwater, so use restraint.
Best plants for an eclectic office
This office has pizazz. Imagine if Miss Frizzle worked from home, channeling her Big Magic School Bus energy into every video call. There’s colorful artwork lining the walls, handmade pottery from an ecovillage in South America dotting the bookshelves, and the ambient sounds of Enya wafting through the airwaves.
Honestly? No notes. The only thing this office needs is plants that can keep up. We’re talking about the Aquarius moon, chunky jewelry, flowy scarf, incense stick equivalents of the plant world.
Stay weird with the Crispy Wave Fern, one of the hardiest varieties of ferns currently on the market. As one of the oldest living plants on earth, fern species grow merrily in a wide variety of habitats, ideally bright and humid. Just shield them from the perceived conflict of direct sun.
There are few quirkier plants than the Monstera Adansonii aka Philodendron Swiss Cheese (an alternative for the lactose intolerant). It’s a fast growing plant that can vine down from a basket, wrap itself around a pole or even scale the walls. Easy to care for in bright indirect light and moist soil, these plants banish negative energy and remove air-born toxins like formaldehyde from the air.
Work Won’t Love You Back, But Plants Will
You might wonder why there’s no section for sun-drenched offices or their polar opposite, dark windowless dens. Here’s why: If you’re lucky enough to have south-facing windows, the plant shop is your oyster, or succulents will be your best bet! You might need sheer curtains to diffuse the light if it’s too intense. But if you work in a space with zero natural light, we ask that you not put a living plant through that kind of suffering. If you cannot invest in grow lights to compensate for the lack of sunlight, a fake plant might be the best option while you plan your own escape. An environment that is inhospitable to houseplants it’s likely harmful for you, too.
Plants as our co-workers, especially when we’re working from home, can teach us daily truths about the value of our labor. Plants prioritize their internal needs over the quantity of leaves they unfurl or the height of their stem. When the conditions are right, they thrive, but when resources are limited they hold back. We can take cues from plants in setting boundaries with our work, prioritizing self-care on the job, and leaving to follow the light that leads to new growth.
Chulvi, Vicente at al. “Natural elements in the designer's work environment influence the creativity of their results.” Journal of Building Engineering 28(2020).
Jaffe, Sarah. Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone. Bold Type Books, 2021.
Parker, Kim et al. “COVID-19 Pandemic Continues To Reshape Work in America.” Pew Research, 2022.